We all know that we continue to learn through our lives. That we start learning the day we’re born and continue until Apple has no more devices to invent. So learning isn’t simply about the information that we gain from academic study. It isn’t simply about information at all.
Learning is what we need to do so we can live. Not just to make a living but so that we can do the essential things – move, interact, consume …. so that we can exist effectively and safely within a community of other people. So that we have a sense of who we are and what we want and need and how we might acquire those things.
It’s obvious that some of our most essential learning happens in our very early years. But some of the most important learning for the rest of our lives happens when we develop the understanding that our brains and bodies have evolved to acquire during our adolescence and young adulthood. In formal education – like a classroom. And everywhere else.
Engaging with others and taking on more independence as we physically develop is a pivotal stage of life. So what happens (or doesn’t happen) as we traverse that tightrope from child- to adulthood lays the foundation for the decades to come.
So if we don’t have the opportunities to observe others, test and develop our skills and comprehend the intricacies of autonomous living and functional relationships during that period, that means we don’t progress. We don’t become someone capable of living a productive and safe adult life. We might pass 16 years on the earth, … 17 and then 18 … but if we’ve been stuck somewhere away from classrooms and shopping centres and sporting activities and entertainment venues – different people and places and circumstances … then we might be stuck at the social, personal and cognitive development of a 14 year old. Or younger.
Many forces linked to experiencing severe mental health issues can drive a young person to isolate from the world. Despite trying all they can to be part of it. Fear, anxiety, trauma, confusion, hopelessness … any or all of these things can lead a young person to cut themselves off. Confine themselves – sometimes to just a couple of rooms. For a very long time.
And so they miss out on the learning that happens with their peers, with their community and in environments created by education professionals.
So ONLY an education program that recognises this situation and creates experiences that acknowledge an individual’s level of development and specific needs can support young people who’ve experienced this social isolation to making gradual progress.
It is not enough to recognise that a young person has missed out on the acquisition of specific areas of knowledge. Because their capacity to then acquire that if presented can never be assumed. A young person must be able to recognise and regulate their emotions, establish and build positive relationships and have the tools to make responsible decisions and handle challenging situations constructively. This is why the Australian curriculum to Year 10 is not just the Maths, Science, English … that are the focus of the senior secondary years. The General Capabilities dimension that includes Personal and Social Capability can be an area that teachers of young people with severe mental health issues may need to implement even when a student is at a senior secondary age.
Personal & Social Capability icon (Australian Curriculum)
Personal and social capability supports students in becoming creative and confident individuals who, as stated in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (MCEETYA 2008), ‘have a sense of self-worth, self-awareness and personal identity that enables them to manage their emotional, mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing’, with a sense of hope and ‘optimism about their lives and the future’. On a social level, it helps students to ‘form and maintain healthy relationships’ and prepares them ‘for their potential life roles as family, community and workforce members’ (MCEETYA, p. 9).
Students with well-developed social and emotional skills find it easier to manage themselves, relate to others, develop resilience and a sense of self-worth, resolve conflict, engage in teamwork and feel positive about themselves and the world around them. The development of personal and social capability is a foundation for learning and for citizenship.
It’s THAT important.
when we acknowledge that young people with severe and complex mental health issues can have missed out on the experiences that facilitate this development, we start to recognise the importance of education programs that see a student as an individual. Not an age. Not a category. Not a disability or a diagnosis. But a unique person with specific needs. AND POTENTIAL.
Good teachers will plan and adapt programs and experiences accordingly.
Great teachers will do that with respect and empathy.
Thank you to all the great teachers who have brought community to a world of isolation. And who have nurtured self-esteem and fostered hope for a brighter future.
Young people with severe and complex mental health issues DESERVE GREAT TEACHERS.
To read our previous October posts focused on education, go to:
Education for Young People with Severe Mental Health Issues (5 Oct)
And the GOOD NEWS is … (9 Oct)
Not Patients But Students (15 Oct)
“Who We Are” and “What We Need” (22 Oct)